“It is true that man does not live by bread alone; he must eat something with it. And the art of making this something as economical, savory and healthy as possible is, I insist, a true art.” ~ Letter to Pellegrino Artusi from poet Lorenzo Stecchetti, 1845-1916
Pellagrino Artusi was such an artist. A businessman, gastronomist, author, he is considered to be the father of Italian home cooking. In 1891 at the tender age of 70, after being turned down by several publishers, he self published a manual for cooking called Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well. His first edition of 1,000 copies was an overwhelming success. He saw 15 editions published before his death in 1911 at the age of 90. Originally containing 475 recipes, the last edition of Artusi, as the book is simply called, contained 790 recipes, many of which had been sent to him from home cooks across Italy. It is still one of Italy’s best selling books and has never been out of print. (Take that Pinocchio!)
Artusi travelled throughout the Italian peninsula. He became familiar with many of the regions and their culinary traditions, and he began collecting recipes that later became the foundation of his book. Family wealth enabled him to retire at the age of 45 and he devoted himself to his passions, culture and cuisine.
Artusi wrote his manual three decades after the unification of Italy. His was the first to include recipes from many different regions in one cookbook and he is credited with establishing a national Italian cuisine. He also wrote in the Italian language, which helped to develop a uniform language for working in the kitchen and beyond. Italian historian Piero Camporesi said, “Science In The Kitchen has done more for national unification than Manzoni’s novel The Betrothed.” [The Betrothed is an historical novel considered the most widely read book in the Italian language.].
Artusi himself was leery of books about cooking. In his preface he says, “Beware of books that deal with this art: most of them are inaccurate or incomprehensible, especially the Italian ones. The French are a little better. But from either, the very most you will glean are a few notions, useful only if you already know the art.”
He considered his book a teaching manual, “I practice using this manual, one simply needs to know how to hold a wooden spoon,” he wrote. “The best teacher is experience. . .Yet even lacking this, with a guide such as mine, and devotion to your labours, you should be able, I hope, to put something decent together.”
His book is chatty, containing anecdotes and short stories, in addition to the recipes, which adds to its charm and shows his wit and wisdom. He provides menus based on what is in season (sound familiar?) and menus for holidays and religious feasts.
Casa Artusi, established in 2007, is a tribute to the man who single handedly put Italian home cooking on the culinary map. Housed in a renovated convent and church in the small town of Forlimpopoli, Casa Artusi has a restaurant, l’Osteria, wine store, culinary school, library, meeting space, art exhibits and museum. It is a place to read, learn, practice, taste and appreciate the treasure that is “Italian home cooking.”
The library contains around 45,000 books including Artusi’s personal library, bequeathed to the city, the Italian Gastronomy Collection (books, magazines, films, etc. about food culture, especially home cooking), and the Forlimpopoli Council library.
There is a Restaurant, l’Osteria, and wine cellar housed in the complex. The Restaurant and l’Osteria serve traditional, regional dishes and prepare some of Artusi’s recipes, depending the season. The wine cellar is associated with the Enoteca Regionale Emilia-Romagna and has over 200 different kinds of wine from the region.
The Cooking School offers a variety of day classes with some of the area’s best chefs. Also demonstrating regional and traditional Romagnolo home cooking is the Associazione della Mariette, named after a woman whom Artusi said, “. . .is both a good cook, and a decent, honest person. . .”.
Starting in 1997, Forlimpopoli has held an annual gastronomic event dedicated to Artusi, The Festa Artusiana. For over a week every night between 7pm and midnight, Casa Artusi and the historical center of the town come alive as a “city of taste.” Streets, alleys, courtyards and squares become stages for food stands featuring Artusi’s dishes, exhibitions, performances, multi-media productions, tastings and gastronomic tours, concerts, children’s events, cultural events, art displays, and more.
In 2013, the Festa Artusiana will be from June 22 through the 30. For more information contact the Festa or Casa Artusi.
Off the beaten path, along the via Emilia between Forli and Cesena, Forlimpopoli was founded by the Romans in the 2nd century BC and has been inhabited ever since. It is the birthplace of Artusi and home to Casa Artusi. It makes an interesting diversion for anyone interested in the history of Italian cooking, excellent traditional cooking, or wines from the Emilia-Romagna region.
Via Costa 27, 47034 Forlimpopoli (FC)
+39 0543 743138
– Lisa Frank, Frank & Delicious, is attending Terra Madre, 2012.